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September 12, 2007

Gelman on Axelrod and Trench Warfare

Abstract: The Evolution of Cooperation, by Axelrod (1984), is a highly influential study that identifies the benefits of cooperative strategies in the iterated prisoner’s dilemma. We argue that the most extensive historical analysis in the book, a study of cooperative behavior in First World War trenches, is in error. Contrary to Axelrod’s claims, there soldiers in the Western Front were not generally in a prisoner’s dilemma (iterated or otherwise), and their cooperative behavior can be explained much more parsimoniously as immediately reducing their risks. We discuss the political implications of this misapplication of game theory.

Andrew Gelman (2007), “Methodology as Ideology: Mathematical Modeling of Trench Warfare,” unpublished paper. Available here.

July 13, 2007

Hopkins and King on extracting meaning from text (with application to blogs)

Abstract: We develop two methods of automated content analysis that give approximately unbiased estimates of quantities of theoretical interest to social scientists. With a small sample of documents hand coded into investigator-chosen categories, our methods can give accurate estimates of the proportion of text documents in each category in a larger population. Existing methods successful at maximizing the percent of documents correctly classified allow for the possibility of substantial estimation bias in the category proportions of interest. Our first approach corrects this bias for any existing classifier, with no additional assumptions. Our second method estimates the proportions without the intermediate step of individual document classification, and thereby greatly reduces the required assumptions. For both methods, we also correct statistically, apparently for the first time, for the far less-than-perfect levels of inter-coder reliability that typically characterize human attempts to classify documents, an approach that will normally outperform even population hand coding when that is feasible. We illustrate these methods by tracking the daily opinions of millions of people about candidates for the 2008 presidential nominations in online blogs, data we introduce and make available with this article, and through evaluations in available corpora from other areas, including movie reviews, university web sites, and Enron emails. We also offer easy-to-use software that implements all methods described.

Daniel Hopkins and Gary King (2007), “Extracting Systematic Social Science Meaning from Text.” Unpublished paper (July 2007 version). Available here.